I say "finally escaped" because four years of high school in those days seemed an interminably long sentence to a teenager. I remember my freshman English teacher, Miss Esther Madden, addressing the class early in my high school career.
"So, this is the class of 1963," she said. "That must sound strange to you but, believe me, those years will go by quickly."
It certainly did sound strange since it was the fall of 1959 and me and my classmates had spent every school day in our lives in the 1950s. The 1960s definitely sounded foreign to us. I suppose those four years did pass quickly but not nearly as quickly as the five decades that have flashed by since.
Consider this: my graduating class is the same distance from last spring's graduates as my classmates were to the class of 1913. That's before World War I, for Pete's sake!
Fifty years is a long time, to be sure; a half century, if you want to look t it that way. I'm reminded of a story of a young child complaining to his grandfather: "Grandpa, you just don't understand. When you were a kid, you didn't have to deal with cell phones, computers, cable television or video games."
"That's right," admitted the grandfather. "We didn't have those things, so we invented them."
Here's just a short list of other things invented since my class left high school: fuel injection, Post-Its, Astroturf, video cassette recorders, CDs/DVDs, soft contact lenses, ATMs, bar code scanners, the Walkman, rollerblades and Viagra.
And how about big events: assassinations (John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King), Medicare, civil rights legislation, Vietnam, man walks on the moon, Watergate, president resigns, AIDS, 9-11-2001 and The Great Recession.
I'm pretty sure few of my classmates were thinking of big things as we entered high school in 1959. We were, after all, born too soon to be tagged Baby Boomers, so much of the scrutiny aimed at our younger siblings was irrelevant to us. Nevertheless, we were growing up in what would later be recognized as boom times. We were mostly products of blue collar families. Many of my adult relatives worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, the same employer I had while working my way through college. If times were tough, I sure didn't recognize it.
While many of my friends have many vivid high school memories, I don't have as many. I suppose I saw high school was just something I had to go through, so it was no big deal. For example, girls didn't play school-sanctioned sports in those Title IX years, something I didn't even think about until 10 years after graduation when I was employed as a sportswriter.
What I do remember about high school is mostly positive, though. I remember that my science teacher was once a professional baseball player and a roommate of Rocky Colavito's while in the minors. I remember that a female teacher had to resign one year because she was pregnant by another teacher. (Pregnancy was more of an issue among students. My friend, Randy Witke, often points out the large number of female classmates who didn't make it to graduation because of pregnancy.)
I also remember the many hours we spent in ROTC tearing down and re-assembling M-1 carbines. A fond memory I have is of the Friday night sock hops in the gym following home football and basketball games. They always announced the last three dances of the night, one of which was a ladies' choice. If you hung around that long, you usually found out which girl needed a ride home.
There are more memories, of course, like predawn basketball practice; the enforcer, vice-principal Steve Fields; and dean of girls Clara Strickland, who taught my mother in the 1930s. The stories will flow at the reunion. We'll marvel at the astonishing fact that our class of aroound 250 apparently didn't lose a single soul in Vietnam, but we'll also remember with sadness the roughly one-quarter of the class who didn't make it to our age.
I didn't go to any of my class' first four reunions, waiting until the 25th. I haven't missed one since. Most of us have made it through the pretentious, posturing years and the semi-retired years to full-blown retirementhood. We may not have the same joints or teeth that we had a half-century ago, but we still enjoy the same music and friends.
And, unlike 60s activist Jack Weinberg, we trust people over 30. Some of them are our grandchildren.